WASHINGTON — After it was over, when Nicklas Backstrom had knocked Johnny Gaudreau into next week and Brooks Orpik had had quite enough of Matthew Tkachuk and Tom Wilson had body slammed Rasmus Andersson into the goal, the Capitals breathed a sigh of relief and skated off the ice as winners.
That hadn't happened since Jan. 10, and a bitter seven-game winless streak was finally behind them. Whether that means Washington is set for a hot stretch remains to be seen. They have a game Sunday against the Boston Bruins. But for one night at least, the Caps could feel good about themselves after a 4-3 win against Calgary.
“Those are the most fun when you can pull together as a group and go out with a little old-school way there,” Wilson said.
Even goalie Braden Holtby got involved at the end of the game when he rushed down ice to even the odds as six Flames players got into it with the five Caps on the ice for the final minute. Tkachuk, who had already fought defenseman Brooks Orpik, grabbed hold of Holtby, too – though nothing came of that exchange except laughter from Holtby. Andersson, good friends with Washington forward Andre Burakovsky, found himself entangled with Wilson, another of Burakovsky’s good friends. That didn't go so well. It was emblematic of the effort, however.
“If you put an effort in like that more times than not it will come to your side more often than not,” Holtby said. “Couple that with our skill that will kick in once we do the right things that’s when we’re a dangerous hockey team. We just have to keep pointing in the right direction. It’s one game and it’s a steppingstone.”
You got the sense afterward that the Caps came together a bit with the post-whistle shenanigans. They stood up for each other. They played with an edge missing much of the past month as a true Stanley Cup hangover set in. Maybe it will carry over, maybe it won’t. But in a game played without captain Alex Ovechkin and for most of the final two periods without third-line center Lars Eller, they found a way to win.
Instead of dread hanging upon it at the start of a critical six-game home stand, Washington moved within two points of first place in the Metropolitan Division behind the New York Islanders.
It wasn't clear that would be the case when Calgary tied the game 3-3 at 12:01 of the third period. But Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 57 seconds to go to win it for the Caps, and the 0-5-2 winless streak was over. Finally. The defending Stanley Cup champs could relax and look ahead, not behind.
“The bye week give us lots of positive emotions. Sometimes I feel like, especially the last 20 games, we really feel like we don’t have a summer, you know?” Kuznetsov said. “We were just playing hockey, playing hockey. As long as you win, you feel unbelievable, but then when things not going well, you start getting nervous a little bit because I really feel like this group is really unselfish. We all worry about ourselves and about the partner, and when things not going well, we start to worry about your teammates. That’s why we end up will get success.”
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Capitals Mailbag: Improving out of the bye
- Easier Said Than Done: Caps finding out how hard it is to repeat as Cup champs
- Midseason Grades: Where do Caps stand after the All-Star break?